Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reflections on the Walk for Life [Clinton Wilcox]

Saturday, January the 24th, I attended the West Coast Walk for Life with more than 30,000 other pro-life people (and about a few dozen pro-choice protesters) in San Francisco, CA.

From left to right: Me (LTI), Josh Brahm (ERI),
Nick Neal (LMJ), Ellen Snyder, Monica
and Adam Jackson, and Terrisa Lopez (SPL)
I got to meet up with representatives from Secular Pro-Life, whom I only get to see once or twice a year, as well as representatives from Life Matters Journal, and Josh Brahm of Equal Rights Institute. I wasn't particularly impressed with their line-up of speakers, so I didn't listen in (and unfortunately, I wasn't able to stay until Sunday to attend the Students for Life conference).

The Walk this year was an interspecies
affair (thanks to Terrisa for that
observation)
There is a bit of danger that I try to bring to remembrance with the Walk. It's entirely possible (and easy) for a pro-life person to attend the Walk and feel like they've done their "pro-life duty" for the year. It's important that we not do this. The Walk is a good thing to show just how formidable the pro-life movement is. But it should not stop here. If anything, being so early in the year, you should use this as your jumping-off point to get your year of pro-life activism started. We can attend the Walk to get energized and meet up with our pro-life friends, but if we really want abortion to become illegal again, it takes all the effort of everyone in the pro-life field working tirelessly to educate people about abortion, from the grassroots to those in the political arena.

Keep it classy, folks. Image courtesty
of Secular Pro-Life
Most of the protesters there had signs that were standard pro-choice arguments (e.g. "My body, my choice"). But there's one protester that I'd like to draw attention to. This was one protester who seemed like he believed all children should die. Now, I hestitate to believe that someone could really feel this way. I initially thought that he was trolling, trying to annoy pro-life people. But then I started thinking that I am aware of a small movement called anti-natalists, in which they believe it is immoral to reproduce (though some, like David Benatar, would say we have a moral obligation to abortion before a child "becomes a person", but that we don't have the right to kill someone afterward). However, Mark Bauerlein at First Things did a Google search on one of this protester's slogans ("Save the earth, don't give birth!"), and discovered that he may have belonged to the Environmentalism movement, not the pro-choice movement, itself. Either way, I would hope he's not legitimately pro-choice. It seems that whatever you think of pro-life people, if you want to really convince the public that you care about women (and children), you shouldn't make for yourself a protest sign that makes you look psychotic. That's counterproductive.

At any rate, the new year has begun, and there are a lot of things we can all do for the movement writ large. Let's keep our minds focused and our eyes looking straight ahead so that we can continue to work to make abortion unthinkable in our country.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reflections on '...as long as it's healthy.'

This post was originally blogged at the Failed Atheist.

There is a common saying popular in Western culture when talking about the birth or scheduled scan of a child. It can arise in a number of different contexts but usually amounts to something like ‘…as long as it’s healthy’.

What does this mean? I don’t think people necessarily mean it in some sinister eugenic sense but what it means is that their child we be loved only if they are healthy. It places a condition on whether that child will be welcomed into the world and loved. I’ve heard it from so many people that it seems accurate to state that it’s culturally ingrained in our subconscious view of  the unborn child. A healthy child is a welcomed child whilst an unhealthy child is not, after-all in a culture of cost-benefit analysis an unhealthy child will just drain our resources right?

What’s wrong with ‘…as long as it’s healthy’? I can think of a number of reasons why we should stop saying it. There is nothing wrong in preferring a healthy child, I think most people can agree that we would prefer that our child was healthy than not. But that sentiment is not being portrayed in the saying, it goes much further than that by implying that an unhealthy child potentially won’t be loved by their parents and may be better off not being born. A parents love is meant to be unconditional but we have such a low cultural view of disability and poor health that it encourages our love for such children to be tentative and conditional. There is subtle yet pervasive pressure to only bring a healthy child into the world, this is why we have the scale of prenatal screening and diagnosis that we do, it is simply cheaper to diagnose and dispose of an unhealthy child before they’re born. Infanticide is still frowned upon here (for now), unlike the Netherlands and their Groningen protocol.

This is not a normal way to view ones children but part of a dehumanizing culture that has made an idol out of health and well being. We have trouble understanding that someone who may be in poor health or have a disability can be happy, our assumption is that those things equal a sub-par human existence which is not necessarily true. You do not need to be a healthy human being to be a good, influential or heroic one, just check out these people, Stephen Hawking, Hellen Keller, Jean-Dominique Bauby and Christy Brown as just a few examples of this.

To unconditionally love someone is to say that it’s good they exist. A humans dignity isn’t based in their talents and abilities but in their shared human nature. This is the Christian view of human value, we all share equal dignity grounded in being made in the image of God, and not because of how intelligent or physically able we may be. We should thus welcome all human beings into the world we share together, regardless of their health or abilities. When we keep repeating statements like ‘as long as it’s healthy’ we are partaking in an idea that implicitly intends not to welcome certain human beings into the world. Of course I understand that caring for a child who isn’t healthy may be challenging but we can make it easier by creating a culture where all humans are welcome and not only those who meets societal standards of normalcy. I therefore suggest that we stop saying ‘…as long as it’s healthy.’.

After writing this I discovered other people have also written about this, both from a Secular and Christian perspective, both very helpful for further reading.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Monkeying Around With Personhood [Clinton Wilcox]

Wesley J. Smith has written about a case in Argentina in which an orangutan named Sandra has been declared by the court to be a non-human person. This ruling essentially would grant Sandra her freedom because it is unethical to hold people captive unlawfully.

The BBC has even written about litigation in the United States to try to get Tommy, a chimpanzee living in captivity, recognized as a "legal person."

Peter Singer and Michael Tooley are two atheist philosophers who have long supported this notion that certain animals, like chimpanzees and dolphins, ought to be considered persons and human infants, embryos, fetuses, and the severely disabled ought not to be. Now it seems that fight has gotten bigger, even being won in at least one part of the world.

This line of thinking is atheist at its heart. If we are just the product of random mutations, a blind, naturalistic process of evolution, then really we are no more special than any other animal species out there. [1] This isn't just my interpretation, either. In Matter and Consciousness, Paul Churchland wrote: "The important point about the standard evolutionary story is that the human species and all of its features are the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process...We are creatures of matter. We should learn to live with that fact."

In fact, Singer and Tooley both (in Practical Ethics and Abortion and Infanticide, respectively) have argued that this idea that humans are intrinsically valuable is a religious idea, and we need to do away with these "antiquated" notions. The only reason we now view infanticide as wrong is because Christian morality has permeated Western civilization.

So if you are going to argue that certain animals deserve personhood, one of two things must happen:

1) You raise those animals to the status of human beings. So if Tommy and Sandra are persons, and infants are not, that means that killing a chimpanzee is more serious than killing a human infant. If you "murder" a chimpanzee, you deserve to be locked away in jail for life or executed. [2] If you kill an infant, you don't. At most, you would be guilty of a property crime, if you killed the infant against the parents' wishes. This is a highly counterintuitive idea.

2) You lower humans to the status of mere animals. After all, if we're no intrinsically different than animals, then it's really not seriously wrong to kill another human being. This is also highly counterintuitive, since we have very strong intuition that killing any human being, especially ones that are younger and more vulnerable than we are, is seriously wrong.

The bottom line is chimpanzees don't deserve personhood status. Personhood is not some arbitrary idea that we can just ascribe to entities and consider them "one of us." Being a person is inherent in being the kind of entity that you are (in our case, a human being made in God's image, or to state it in a secular way, an entity with an inherent nature as rational agents). Those who believe you are a person based on the functions you currently perform are guilty of a simple confusion: confusing being a person with acting as a person. As you must be a human before you can develop human parts, so you must be a person before you can develop personal properties.

I do not believe that animals are rights bearing entities. That's not to say that we can mistreat them. They are still entities that feel pain, and we should respect that. And a human being who mistreats an animal is at risk of becoming animal-like, themselves, becoming desensitized to pain in others. However, even if you believe they are rights bearing entities, you can ascribe rights to them without ascribing personhood to them. But what we also have to understand is that with rights comes duties. I have a right to live. This means that I am also obligated to respect everyone else's right to live. Apes cannot understand or abide by any obligations.

Sandra and Tommy are both blissfully unaware of these court proceedings. In fact, they don't care one iota about whether or not you consider them persons. This is an important difference between apes and humans. Apes may be highly intelligent -- but only when compared to other animal species (this is often lost in the animal rights debate). Apes are not very intelligent when compared to human beings. No ape will ever write like Tolstoy, or paint like Michelangelo, or compose music like Bach, or fly other apes to the Moon. And while apes may be able to use certain rudimentary tools -- that's all it is, a rudimentary tool. No ape will ever open a hardware store for the carpentry needs of other apes. And while infants may not yet be able to understand these rights and obligations, they will. And that's the crux of the matter. Human embryos/fetuses/infants will naturally develop these abilities, whereas apes never will.

So trying to ascribe personhood status to lower animals is unnecessary and makes a mockery of human dignity. Animals have been part of the ecosystem for a long time. Animals kill each other, protect each other, copulate, and do all manner of things without human help and will continue to do so without human intervention and without caring a bit about personhood or what it is. There is just no reason to ascribe personhood to animals. The only possible reason would be to ensure that humans don't mistreat animals or cause them to go extinct. But ascribing them personhood status is not necessary for that, either.

[1] I'm not wanting to get into a debate about evolution. It's certainly possible that God used evolution as the mechanism by which to create humanity. The operative idea here is if naturalistic evolution is true, this is the idea that would follow.

[2] Again, the debate regarding capital punishment is beyond the scope of this article. This idea here is that whatever the penalty for murder is, that's what you deserve if you "murder" a chimpanzee.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

‘Pregnant woman leaves prolife advocates speechless’ – A Response to a viral Pro-abortion/choice video

Over the last week the abortion debate has been reawakened in the UK, after a viral video of a pro-choice/abortion women criticising prolife campaigners went viral and has been seen nearly 5 million times. The abortion debate has been on the front of newspapers, on the TV, Radio and all over the internet, the first time to such an extent for quite some time. Borrowing the words of Francis Schaeffer, the roof has come off and people have been made aware of the point of tension. Simply that abortion is a violent, dehumanising act that kills a whole, living distinct human being and abortion imagery makes that fact impossible to hide from. This has made a lot of people very angry and the UK press are not happy about it!

The viral video has been extremely popular but I have written a response to it which you can read here, and there is also a link in the first paragraph to the viral video.

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Thoughts on Brittany Maynard's Situation [Clinton Wilcox]

You've probably heard the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with degenerative brain cancer, who took her own life rather than lose control of her bodily functions in what she referred to as "dying with dignity." Now, like all contentious issues, there are terms used that are emotionally-charged and obfuscate the main issue. In the case of euthanasia, "death with dignity" is one such term, since it implies that those who choose to live out their lives and accept the consequences are not dignified in their death.

Maynard's situation was tragic, and no one truly knows what they will do when they find themselves in that situation. It is a lousy situation all around. What she did was not brave, to be sure, but neither am I comfortable calling it cowardly, either. Even though she did the wrong thing, she was trying to take a situation that was beyond her control and bring it under her control. I don't want to overlook the tragedy of the situation, as so many have done so far. It's easy to denigrate someone for their choices when you're not the one going through it. I have even seen some indicating that because she committed suicide, she will not be in Heaven. But this is bad theology; Jesus told us that there is only one unpardonable sin, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12: 22-32). I do not know Maynard's spiritual condition. But the only thing that would keep her out is if she wasn't trusting in Christ as her savior and redeemer.

The stark reality is that Maynard did not "die with dignity." As Trent Horn points out, dying with dignity is about how you face death, not about how you die. Choosing an early death is not dying with dignity because death, itself, is undignified. It is our enemy, which is why Christ had to come and conquer it. With Christ, death is not final. There will come a time when all the dead will be resurrected, and this is the time that we, as Christians, can look to for hope. Maynard taking her own life prematurely was not dying on her own terms, because she was already dying. Her choice to commit suicide was merely preventing death from dealing the final blow.

The situation was made even more tragic by the fact that she was in constant pain. Now, there are painkillers one can take, and as Trent mentioned in his article, it is not impermissible to take painkilling medication that has an unintended side effect of shortening one's life. But to directly take one's own life to avoid what comes at the end of life is wrong. There have been others who have a similar condition to Maynard's who tried to urge her not to take her life, such as Kara Tippets.

I've seen several people wondering about how her situation differs from people on 9/11, who jumped from the Twin Towers to escape the burning flames that were engulfing the building. The disconnect is that the people jumping were trying to escape the flames, and probably weren't thinking clearly in the heat of the moment (pun definitely not intended). Maynard's death was a premeditated act that implicitly says she doesn't believe that living a full life of suffering and accepting the consequences is dignified.

It actually makes me think of a general on a battlefield, fighting a losing battle. Surely if a general were to engage in a losing battle knowing that he had no hope of winning, that would be wrong. It would be tantamount to murder of his soldiers, and suicide if he didn't make it out, himself. But what if they are engaged in battle with a ruthless enemy, with no hope of winning? The heroic thing to do is to fight to the very end, not to surrender and allow the ruthless enemy to slaughter your soldiers.

Allowing the decision to end the lives of people who are suffering opens a slippery slope. How much suffering is too much before we deem a life not worth living? We've already seen some of this in our culture which has allowed abortion and euthanasia, such as the fact that roughly 90% of unborn children diagnosed with Down's syndrome aborted, and children like Baby Doe who was born in 1984, but had Down's syndrome and needed a surgery to correct a condition in his throat so that he could eat. Since he had Down's syndrome, the Supreme Court allowed the parents of Baby Doe to murder their own child by starving him to death.

We already live in a culture that doesn't respect life and doesn't understand the wonder and the beauty of it, even those lives that are not lived up to our culture's standard of quality. Brittany Maynard's case is the latest in a tragic line of people who viewed their own lives, or the life of someone else, as not worth living.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: Persuasive Pro-Life by Trent Horn [Clinton Wilcox]

Special thanks to Trent Horn for the free copy to review.

Trent Horn used to work for Justice for All, and it really shows in this book. If you've ever been through a JFA seminar, this book is a terrific supplement to the seminar. It's basically the JFA seminar in print form.

Trent begins by explaining what's at stake in the issue, then turns to how to have more productive conversations on abortion. Instead of having conversations that devolve into shouting matches and name-calling, or even having civil conversations where both people talk past each other, Trent discusses skills to develop that will help you be more convincing in your conversations to be able to change hearts and minds on this issue.

After the conversation skill, Trent discusses the many different kinds of people you may encounter when you talk about this issue, and the best ways to respond to their concerns.

When I first heard that Trent was writing a book, I was told that the book would be similar to Scott Klusendorf's The Case for Life, only geared more toward Catholics. While Trent does quote many Catholic fathers and popes, this is not a book just for Catholics. Non-Catholics will get much out of the book, and the vast majority of information in this book can be accepted and used by non-Catholics. There are only two places in the book that I can recall that may not be specifically helpful to non-Catholics, but it is still very helpful to at least hear where Catholics are coming from on this issue, especially since they're the largest pro-life group of people in the world.

There was really only one misstep in the book that I can recall, but it's a minor one, as far as I'm concerned. In his discussion of abortions in the case of rape on page 207, Trent (in the mouth of a pro-life advocate) makes the statement that "rape is a tragic crime that men will never understand." But some men *are* raped. It's important to understand that while women are the vast majority of victims, there are still men who are raped, and may even be working for the pro-life field and can use that as a bit of common ground with the pro-choice advocate.

Trent's book is simply one of the better books you can own on the abortion issue. It will help you present a much more persuasive case for the pro-life position, not just because it presents good, compelling arguments, but also because it will help you be a much more persuasive arguer by treating the person you're talking to with respect, listening to their concerns, and finding common ground without compromising your pro-life convictions.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Responding to Philosophical Arguments Against the Pro-Life Position, Part IV [Clinton Wilcox]

This will be the last in this series, as the author, Brandon Christen, has indicated this is his last part. He seems to have forgotten his desire to respond to the argument from ageism, but I guess we'll have to be content with this. You can find the first part in this series here, the second part here, and the third part here.

Christen's article, that I will be responding to, can be found at this link.

Christen does consider this to be the strongest non-religious argument against abortion. The problem is, he doesn't seem to understand the argument. He seems to assume it means that you were a human at all points in your life. That's part of it, but the argument states that you are *you* at all points in your life. You were human at all points, but the same *you* now is the same *you* then when you were a toddler, and when you were in the womb. Here's a more thorough exposition of the argument from identity.

Christen begins by restating his fallacious argument that there is no evidence for a soul -- that there is a difference between humanity and personhood. That's true, but irrelevant. The argument from identity is not a personhood argument. Christen seems blinded by the "personhood" discussion so that he can't imagine any discussion of abortion that doesn't break down to a discussion of personhood. Whether or not you talk about person, the argument is that you are identical to yourself through all points of your life.

Before continuing, I just want to counter Christen's false claim that there is no good evidence that minds can exist outside of a brain. This is just false. We may not have experience of minds existing outside of brains, but it doesn't follow from this that it is impossible. After all, if God exists, he exists disembodied but is able to think, create, etc. So if God exists, then it is false to say that a brain must be present for a mind to exist. There is also very strong evidence that the brain and mind are separate. The Law of Identity states that A=B. In other words, for anything true of A, that same thing must be true of B. Otherwise the two things would not be identical. But there are things that is true of my mind that is not true of my brain. My brain is physical, whereas my mind is not. Whenever I have thoughts "about" something, my brain does not change shape to become the thing I am thinking of. Additionally, as J.P. Moreland writes in his book Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality, "Mental events are fellings of pain, episodes of thoughts, or sensory experiences. Physical events are happenings in the brain and central nervous system that can be described exhaustively using terms from chemistry and physics." Moreland goes on, "Physical events and their properties do not have the same features as do mental events and their properties. My thoughts, feelings of pain, or sensory experiences do not have any weight; they are not located anywhere in space (my thought of lunch cannot be closer to my right ear than to my left one); they are not composed of chemicals; they do not have electrical properties. On the other hand, the brain events associated with my thoughts, etc. -- indeed, with material things in general -- do have these features."

So there is very good evidence that the brain and the mind are separate. But moving on.

Christen goes on to assert a thought experiment, that if he was struck with a virus that erased all of his memories, everything that makes him "Brandon" would be gone. But this isn't clear at all. He's confusing the memories, experiences, etc., with the experiencer of those memories, experiences, etc. What is it, exactly, that was experiencing those events? Why is he so sure that "Brandon" would be gone, instead of "Brandon" surviving without his experiences intact? In fact, with one question I can refute his thought experiment: are we then morally permitted to kill Brandon once he finds himself in that state? If not, then doesn't it seem like the experiencer is still there, even if all of his memories are gone?

Christen seems to be asserting a form of dualism here -- that Brandon is not his body, just his collection of psychological experiences. But he has not made a case for this, besides some misguided assertions that there is no brain or "soul" (he assumes there is no evidence, rather than engaging the multitude of philosophical and theological books that give evidence for a soul or that the mind is independent of the brain). In fact, Edwin C. Hui, in his book At the Beginning of Life: Dilemmas in Theological Bioethics, argues that this dualism results in the view that the physical organism can exist independently of the psychological entity, and it's the psychological entity that should be given ontological significance (in other words, the psychological entity is the one with intrinsic value, the one whose existence is important, not the physical organism). But this contradicts normal human experience. The sensations that our body experiences need the body as a subject of experiences, to experience these sensations, and the psychological component is necessary to comprehend the sensations so they can be understood as meaningful. Since the boyd and psychological components are both necessary for our experiences, then both are necessary for the "I", the person who is the subject of experiences. Since the body is a necessary component to the person, one cannot hold that the body comes to be at one time while the person comes to be at another time.

So Christen's critique here, like his other critiques, is simply misguided. He seems to want to force "personhood" arguments into these other non-personhood arguments. But this simply won't do. In fact, the argument from numerical identity argues that the fetus is identical to me, despite not having psychological continuity with who the fetus will become later. Christen fails to really engage with the argument, itself, instead just engaging with whether or not we are psychologically connected to ourselves through out our entire lives. We are not, but this is irrelevant to the argument from identity.

So Christen's statement that there are no sufficient arguments isn't surprising -- he doesn't really understand the arguments. In order to find an argument compelling, you have to understand it. But in order to adequately refute an argument, you also have to understand it. These arguments remain unscathed.

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